Smart Growth Hamilton

What is Smart Growth?

The Greater Golden Horseshoe is forecast to welcome 4.6 million new people over the next three decades, and the City of Hamilton through Schedule #3 of the Growth Plan is required by the provincial planning framework to plan to accommodate 236,000 of the forecasted 4.6 million additional people by 2051. To put the Greater Golden Horseshoe growth forecasts into context, this is the equivalent of the entire population of Greater Montreal moving to this region over the next three decades. Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options and focusing development within existing neighborhoods. The City of Hamilton has an opportunity to harness and plan for future growth in a balanced manner through the creation of complete communities and transit oriented communities.

Click to view Schedule #3 of the Growth Plan

Accelerated Growth

Demographic and economic research published recently by Michael Moffatt, Senior Director, Smart Prosperity and Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School, demonstrate that over the last decade, not only have municipalities within the Greater Golden Horseshoe been growing at a significant rate, but that growth has in fact been accelerating. This acceleration has also been experienced within the City of Hamilton with the population growing by 2.8% between 2010-15 and accelerating to a 6.3% increase between 2015-20.

Housing Affordability

Despite population growth across south-central Ontario accelerating in the lead up to the pandemic – housing completions have barely responded to population increases, which is why housing prices have been increasing. Looking forward, the federal government has increased immigration targets to support post pandemic recovery, which means we will need to build more housing to keep a lid on housing prices. A study by Oxford Economics, a North American Housing Affordability Index that looks at home price inflation, income growth and mortgage rates found that Hamilton is now even less affordable than L.A. and is the third least affordable city in North America after Vancouver and Toronto. In order to accommodate higher levels of immigration with new federal targets and the Growth Plan targets outlined by the provincial government, Hamilton needs a smart approach to growth that provides a variety of different housing options.

Hamilton & Buying Habits

Canadians including those in Hamilton spent 2020 mostly buying one kind of housing (single detached), but the previous decade building another (apartments and townhomes). This mismatch between supply and demand is creating an increasingly constrained supply of single-family homes and contributing to rapidly escalating housing prices in Hamilton. The political debate around expanding or not expanding Hamilton’s urban boundary could lock in another couple of decades of building almost exclusively high density housing in Hamilton, despite some families needing room to grow and a backyard. Hamilton would quickly become just like Toronto or Vancouver where the socio-economic divide worsens between those whom own homes with backyards in neighbourhoods and those whom live in small condos or rent.

New Growth

The City of Hamilton is well-positioned to balance new growth with a small urban boundary expansion with strong environmental protections that exist in the 83,674 hectares (836 km2) of already protected land designated in the City boundaries within the permanently protected provincial Greenbelt.

WE HBA originally recommended to the City of Hamilton a preferred intensification target of 50 % to 2051, however, we support the Ambitious Density target of 60% as a balanced approach going forward.

Intensification Plan

How realistic are Hamilton’s intensification plans? The “ambitious density scenario” with a small urban boundary expansion has an intensification target of 60%. The “No Boundary Expansion” option has a minimum intensification target of 81%. Historically, Hamilton has come nowhere close to achieving these kinds of intensification numbers. Can Hamilton do better – yes of course, but the city could be setting itself up to fail to come anywhere close to building the necessary supply of housing for Hamiltonians, making the existing housing crisis far worse.

Intensification and Need for Boundary Expansion

The City of Hamilton professional planning staff department recommended expansion land need, at approximately 1,340 ha, equates to 1.5% of the City’s total rural land area. The remaining 98.5% of the City’s rural lands will remain outside of the urban boundary as part of Rural Hamilton. As such, the proposed expansion is not sprawl, but rather an opportunity for carefully and sustainably planned development. By decade, under the Ambitious Density scenario, the required intensification units are:

  • 17,700 (2021 – 2031)
  • 22,200 (2031 – 2041)
  • 26,300 (2041 – 2051)

In comparison, over the last 10 years between 2010 and 2019, the City experienced a total of 8,260 intensification units.

Supporting Intensification

Hamilton can support more intensification, especially with the now fully funded LRT on the way. Far more needs to be done to turn NIMBYism into Yes In My Backyard. To achieve higher intensification targets, Hamilton needs to eliminate minimum parking requirements, modernize low-density residential zoning to allow ALL TYPES of low-rise housing throughout existing neighbourhoods including semis, triplexes, townhomes and low-rise apartments, up-zone all avenues and corridors to allow mid-rise housing as-of-right and significantly increase height and density limits in some parts of the city. The City has just done a great job in the last few years of putting in place the downtown’s secondary plan, but more will need to be done under higher intensification scenarios. These are fundamental changes that can and should happen in Hamilton.

Hamilton Jobs and Economic Impacts

The new housing, land development and professional renovation sector is the industry that drives Hamilton’s economy. In 2019 the industry supported over 20,000 well paying jobs in the skilled trades and professional services such as real estate, finance, architecture and planning. These jobs generated $1.3 billion in wages and $2.3 billion in investment. The residential construction industry led Canada out of the 2008/09 financial crisis and is well positioned to do so again in the post pandemic recovery.

External Resources